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Lionel Richie's Great Great Grandfather Owned Slaves

March 7th, 2011 8:40am EST

Lionel RichieSoul star Lionel Richie has discovered his great great grandfather was a slave owner, who freed the woman who bore him a child - the singer's great grandfather.
 
The hitmaker recently taped an episode of Lisa Kudrow's hit family tree show "Who Do You Think You Are?" and the TV adventure led him to two major discoveries about his ancestors.
 
Thanks to historians, genealogists and African-American cultural experts at the University of Texas, University of Virginia, Brown University and the Nashville Public Library, Richie unearthed information that led him to his great great grandmother, Mariah, who was freed from slavery after giving birth to her owner Morgan Brown's son John Louis Brown - and J.L. Brown went on to lead the powerful Knights of The Wisemen, a late 1800s institution which offered help, support and financial aid to African-Americans.
 
Proud Richie also learned his great grandfather had written the rule book for the early insurance agency, which helped propel the modern civil rights movement.
 
Unfortunately, the Knights ran out of cash and Brown ended his days as a caretaker at a Chattanooga cemetery, where he is buried in an unmarked pauper's grave.
 
Visiting the wooded cemetery, Richie was overcome with emotion, explaining, "This is about as close to a spiritual awakening as I've ever had in my whole life."

Lionel Richie

Photo Credits: PR Photos